At Least They're Not Doing Vodka Butt Shots Anymore

10/29/2010 02:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • David Isenberg Author, 'Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq'

It seems like it was just yesterday, although it was actually just a bit over a year ago, that the media was buzzing about the drunken hazing rituals and antics done by various ArmorGroup private security contractors, who had the responsibility of guarding the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thanks to the letter to Secretary of State Clinton released by the Project on Government Oversight, documenting a pattern of blatant, longstanding violations of the security contract, and of a pervasive breakdown in the chain of command and guard force discipline and morale, ArmorGroup became the poster boy for PSC behaving badly.

Of course that was then and this is now. Given the lawsuit by James Gordon, ex-ArmorGroup employee, and subsequent investigations by Congress and the Commission on Wartime Contracting which I wrote about here and here it was inevitable that attention would fade. After all, it is not as if ArmorGroup is the only private security contractor which has messed up. So one would think ArmorGroup learned its lesson, fixed things, and moved on.

Of course, you would be wrong. Or so a new State Department Inspector General report on ArmorGroup indicates.

Here are the key findings:

• AGNA has not been able to recruit, train, or manage the KESF at the staffing level or the quality required by its contract with the Department of State.

• AGNA has employed Nepalese guards without verifiable experience, training, or background investigations in violation of its contract.

• AGNA cannot account for 101 U.S. Government-furnished weapons that have been missing since 2007. AGNA used U.S. Government-furnished weapons for training rather than required contractor-furnished weapons.

• A pattern of uncorrected disciplinary problems within the KESF preceded revelations of such problems in the media.

• AGNA does not adequately maintain training records. AGNA firearms instructors failed to sufficiently instruct guards to help correct firing errors. Instructors also qualified guards who did not achieve the minimum qualifying score at the firing range.

• Several weaknesses were found in canine explosives detection testing procedures carried out by AGNA's subcontractor, including failure to test for all scents required by the contract, use of expired and potentially contaminated materials, and explosives storage problems that may lead to cross-contamination.

• The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) did not thoroughly scrutinize Nepalese guards hired by AGNA, allowing guards without experience, training, or background investigations to perform security duty.

• DS did not verify that Nepalese guards met contractually required English language proficiency levels; some guards did not have required levels of proficiency.

• When AGNA could not acquire a sample of a certain explosive to test canines, DS changed the contract standards so that the canines would not be have to be tested to detect this particular explosive, which is available in Afghanistan.

• DS does not provide a sufficient number of weapons for guards; some guards share weapons with guards on other shifts, affecting firing accuracy.

A couple of things come to mind about the above findings. First, in regard to AGNA not accounting for 101 U.S. Government-furnished weapons that have been missing since 2007 this seems to be a problem for some PSCs. Recall that earlier this year Sen. Carl Levin was investigating Paravant, the shell company set up b Blackwater, in regard to its work in Afghanistan. Among his charges was that Paravant misappropriated government weapons. For detail see this Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

To add insult to injury the IG report notes, "AGNA and the Department negotiated a financial settlement in which AGNA was to reimburse the U.S. Government $381,000 for the use of these weapons. However, OIG reviewed invoices and found that AGNA has not yet reimbursed the Department. DS officials confirmed that AGNA has yet to reimburse the Department."

AGNA also did not do a good job in regard to firearms training. The IG report states:

OIG also observed problems with AGNA's firing range. First, the range has inadequate space for the number of guards attempting to qualify, which on that day, forced guards to shoot while in close proximity to each other. As a result, one guard shot at the wrong target and did not qualify. Second, since the Government of Af¬ghanistan limits AGNA's time on the range to four hours in the morning, guards had inadequate time to shoot. Consequently, one group of guards was unable to qualify that day. Third, the range is ten miles from Camp Sullivan, which is a security risk for guards transported to the range in high-profile armored vehicles. AGNA expatriate supervisors told OIG that guards only make it to the range for qualification once every 6 months, and that they would prefer more frequent visits to improve firing accuracy.

Perhaps AGNA should realize, to borrow from the National Rile Association, that guns don't kill
people, improper weapons training kills people.

Second, in regard to the point about Nepalese guards not having contractually required English language proficiency levels let us note this is not the first time this has been a problem for ArmorGroup. The law suit filed last year by former ArmorGroup employee James Gordon noted:

Despite AGNA's representation in its contract proposal that it had a rigorous program to ensure that all guards assigned to the U.S. Embassy were able to converse in the required languages with employees and visitors while on posts and that it would conduct language proficiency tests for its TCN workforce, Defendants hired Gurkha guards who could not speak English. AGNA falsified [my emphasis] their language qualifications in its submissions to DoS. When Mr. Gordon sought to ascertain what language tests had been administered to the workforce to determine whether their language skills complied with contract requirements, he learned that no language tests had been administered. Mr. Gordon informed DoS of this contract violation and immediately sought to rectify it. Subsequently, AGI hired a language teacher to perform language assessments who concluded that that the Gurkha workforce would need years of language training in order to meet the contract language requirements.

Were AGNA's problems merely the result of overzealous auditors upset because not every t was crossed? The IG report says, "AGNA has been unable to maintain the number of guards or the quality level required by the contract. From July 2007 until as recently as May 2010, various positions have been unfilled, including members of its Emergency Response Team, emergency medical technicians, and vehicle mechanics. These unfilled positions have led to Department-imposed penalties of $2.5 million and the issuance of a notice from the Department to the contractor to "show cause" as to why the contract should not be terminated"

Speaking of the quality of the guards the IG report states:

To manage staffing shortages, AGNA hired and put on duty Nepalese guards without contractually required military or police experience or training. In November 2007, after the Department noted that AGNA was not providing required relief guards, AGNA hired 38 additional Nepalese guards. These guards' personnel files did not contain any credible documents verifying successful military or police employment during the past three years or a recommendation from a supervisor, both of which are required by the contract. Instead, each file contained a document signed by the AGNA project manager stating that the 38 guards were employed by the previous KESF [Kabul Embassy Security Force] security contractor, Global Strategies Group. However, Global Strategies Group officials told the OIG team that none of these guards were employed by the company. OIG interviewed one of the 38 Nepalese guards who stated that he had not worked for Global Strategies Group. Personnel files also indicated that AGNA never investigated the background of any of these guards, and that the guards were on duty for at least six months before receiving required training. This matter was referred to OIG's Office of Investigations.

We might note, in regard to the above point, that AGNA is a member company of the PMC trade association formerly known as IPOA, recently renamed ISOA (International Stability Operations Association). ISOA's Code of Conduct, the most recent version of which was adopted February 11, 2009, states:

6.3. Signatories shall utilize adequately trained and prepared personnel in all their operations in accordance with clearly defined company standards that are appropriate and specific to their duties undertaken and the environment of operations.

6.4. Signatories shall properly vet, supervise and train personnel.

Perhaps, AGNA did not get around to reading the fine print.

The value of State's contract with AGNA for a base year and four option years is $190 million. As of June 2010, the Department had obligated $97.5 million and expended $77.7 million for the KESF.

POGO notes that ArmorGroup's contract expired on June 30, 2010 and EOD Technology, Inc. (EODT) was selected to take over. ArmorGroup will continue to guard the Embassy through the end of 2010.

"This report offers more proof that the State Department is either lacking the will or the capacity to keep its contractors in line," said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian. POGO investigator Jake Wiens questioned the timing of the report, asking, "Why did this report come so late in the game? It would have been more relevant had it come before the decision to remove ArmorGroup was made."

AGNA, of course, has succeeded in its primary mission, keeping American diplomatic personnel safe. As the IG report states, "AGNA's KESF has deterred unauthorized, illegal, or potentially life-threatening actions directed toward chief of mission officials and visitors in Kabul's volatile security environment. AGNA incident reports reveal that during the contract per¬formance period, no one under chief of mission authority has been injured or killed due to unauthorized entry or perimeter breaches. The regional security officer (RSO) reported that AGNA has performed well during past incidents and has effectively provided security for the embassy."

But given the problems detailed in the IG report one wonders how long that will continue.